The CW’s “Supernatural” closed out its ninth season with a powerful — if not altogether surprising — finale on Tuesday night, leaving viewers teetering on the edge of a brutal cliffhanger that will assuredly shatter the show’s status quo when it returns for season ten this fall.
The episode’s final moments (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) saw heroic monster hunter Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) — one of the show’s two protagonists — return from death with the signature black eyes of a demon, tragically transforming him into one of the creatures he’s spent his life fighting. His brother Sam (Jared Padalecki), was too busy trying to summon the reinstated King of Hell, Crowley (Mark Sheppard at his scenery-chewing best), in an attempt to save Dean’s life, to realize that the cunning demon was already in the building, ready to welcome Dean into the ranks.
The dramatic denouement capped off an ambitious but uneven year for the veteran series, which was at its best when focused on expanding the meaty mythology that has driven the show for almost a decade, but lost its footing during the middle of the season, mired in a spate of shaky standalone episodes that stalled the narrative momentum and sometimes gave the impression that the writers were simply spinning their wheels in order to fill the network-mandated 23-episode order.
After nine years of battling every conceivable beast, bad guy and Biblical foe, there’s an unintended yet perfunctory air to the way the show now handles its procedural “Monsters of the Week” element — it’s hard to find an original take on vampires or werewolves in a post-”Twilight” world, and viewers may be feeling fatigued by the attempt. Lest we forget, “Supernatural” premiered before the likes of “True Blood,” “Grimm” and “The Vampire Diaries,” and the oversaturation of the genre market has done the stalwart show no favors — although its liberal interpretation of Judeo-Christian lore remains one of its most fascinating and fruitful decisions.
In addition to returning fan favorite character Castiel (Misha Collins) to the forefront of the story this season, “Supernatural” struck gold when it cast Curtis Armstrong as the nebbish Metatron, channeling his “Revenge of the Nerds”-esque power trip into an altogether more detestable plot as the vitriolic Scribe of God attempted to rule Heaven in his Creator’s stead. Likewise, when the show was able to properly utilize Tahmoh Penikett as disgraced angel Gadreel, the “Battlestar Galactica” alum brought pathos and gravitas to the conflicted character.
While those three were given plenty to do, other angels received short shrift, especially earlier in the season. Adam Harrington’s Bartholomew might as well have had a mustache to nefariously twirl, since the character and his angelic minions never rose above villainous caricatures.
On the other end of the spectrum, Timothy Omundson’s turn as Biblical brother-killer Cain gave us one of the season’s most memorable episodes — not only providing the catalyst for Dean’s slow descent into bloodlust, but also deepening the show’s already substantial mythology, holding a mirror up to Sam and Dean’s own strained sibling bond to illustrate the lengths one might go to in order to protect their family. Viewers were also treated to welcome returns for Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) and Felicia Day’s Charlie — two of “Supernatural’s” few surviving female characters. Day’s appearance was a particular joy thanks to a wacky but exhilarating installment that also featured characters from the land of L. Frank Baum’s Oz. It was a shame to lose demonic badass Abaddon (Alaina Huffman) who injected the season with a welcome dose of
girl woman power throughout, but while it would’ve been nice to see more of her activities as usurper to Crowley’s throne in Hell throughout the season, it would’ve stretched credulity for the Winchesters to let her live beyond this year.
As always, the cornerstone of “Supernatural’s” success rests on the storied relationship between Sam and Dean — a relationship that remained excruciatingly strained for much of season nine. While this undeniably provided Ackles and Padalecki with a wealth of juicy material, enabling both stars to showcase some of their finest work to date, a prolonged storyline with the Winchesters at odds inevitably interfered with the show’s equilibrium, and with Dean’s latest predicament, that conflict looks set to continue at least into the early part of season ten.
While this isn’t necessarily a negative from a storytelling standpoint, it certainly keeps the audience off-balance — proving that the writers aren’t afraid to take risks even at this late stage of the show’s lifespan. Those risks don’t always pay off — season nine played noticeably fast and loose with some aspects of the show’s established canon — but it’s admirable that showrunner Jeremy Carver and his team aren’t content to rest on their laurels as “Supernatural” enters double-digits.
Dean’s demonic transformation does make good on a story thread that was hinted at yet never fully explored as far back as season three: When the elder Winchester sold his soul to save Sam’s life and was sent to Hell (he’s an unlucky guy), he eventually agreed to begin torturing other damned souls to end his own suffering, and he feared that his time “downstairs” would turn him into one of the black-eyed monsters he so loathed. After some delay, that prophecy has been fulfilled, which will hopefully enable the versatile Ackles to explore Dean’s dark side in a more profound way next season.
In earlier seasons, Sam’s everyman journey drove the show’s mythology, often leaving Dean without a substantive narrative arc, so it’s refreshing to see Dean’s devolution given such focus now — especially if his loss of humanity helps cement Sam’s resolve to save his brother and repair their fractured bond. Meanwhile, Padalecki has spent so many episodes playing broken, manipulated or possessed versions of Sam, it will be a refreshing change of pace to see him return to the heart of who Sam is – smart, stubborn and single-minded in his focus when it comes to those he loves.
While “Supernatural” didn’t always manage to stick the landing in its ninth year, the daring genre show still proved that — thanks to its solid foundation of memorable characters and swing for the fences tenacity — it still has plenty of stories worth telling.